Why Christian Charity Doesn’t Work

For those who don’t know, “Christian charity” used to be the buzz word in churches and communities before “social justice” was coined.  Like social justice, its intent was to show kindness to the needy and less fortunate in society.  It helped to promote several social reforms in schools, churches, government, and other parts of the community.  Over the years, the phrase fell out of use and was replaced with awareness groups and recently social justice.  But whatever the name, the spirit of Christian charity is still strong in America and among believers everywhere.  There is just one problem with it.

It doesn’t work.

Or at least how it has often been carried out doesn’t work.  When you think of a social justice group or a charity, you probably picture a homeless shelter, food pantry, the anti-human trafficking movement, or maybe even an adoption agency.  All of these organizations do a lot of good work,  and I don’t want people to think I’m just bad-mouthing them.  However, they often just treat the symptoms of the actual problem instead of fixing the problem itself.

For example, people who are homeless do need a place of residence that isn’t a cardboard box or a park bench.  And shelters provide them at least a temporary shelter where they can sleep, get a shower, and maybe a meal.  But the people they help are still homeless.  Another, more recent example, would be the Central American children illegally crossing the border.  Many churches along the border and around the nation see this as an opportunity to share God’s love and do good deeds for others.  So they transform their gyms, worship areas, and fellowship halls into make shift shelters where blankets, food, clothes, and medicines are offered as well.  Some have gone so far as to promote comprehensive immigration reform which usually means amnesty to illegal immigrants.  The problem, however, still remains: they feel that they must commit illegal acts because their homeland is no longer safe.

By only treating the symptoms of the real problems, these acts of charity fail to meet Christ’s own example for acts of kindness.  Whenever Jesus came across a blind man, a leper, or a mute, he didn’t give them a hug and tell them how sorry he was.  He didn’t toss a coin into their cup or buy them a fish to eat.  He healed them of whatever was ailing them.  He solved their problems by going to the source instead of the symptoms.  By granting a blind man sight and healing the paralytic, Christ provided them the opportunity to sustain themselves.  By healing the leper, Jesus reconciled him well enough to be reconciled into society.  Of course he did more than just that.  He forgave them as well, thus mending the their broken relationship with God.  But since we cannot forgive sins, he gave us his healings as examples of what we are called to do.

Again, I’m not saying homeless shelters and charities are bad ideas.  Nor am I condemning giving food and medicine to people who can’t pay.  Rather I’m asking as believers that we place a greater focus on identifying the real problems of suffering and need and try to solve those instead of treating the symptoms alone.  Many organizations have already begun this process.  The XXX Church works with both the porn industry by sharing the gospel and offering accountability programs and software for men and women addicted to porn and lust.  Threedom Front encourages college students and others to help end slavery by identifying producers who observe Fair Trade laws.  And not a few homeless shelters have been in contact with employment and educational services to help provide the homeless a chance to start over.

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America and the Middle East Pt-4: Palestine and Israel

With almost three weeks of violence between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas, many American politicians and news pundits have taken up the rallying cry on both sides.  On one side are those sharing the horror stories of young children in Gaza who have been killed or maimed by Israeli missiles.  They see Israel as an apartheid that wants nothing more than to eliminate the Palestinian territories and deny Palestinian Arabs any political rights.  On the other are those who stand with Israel and her right to protect her citizens from rockets launched by Hamas.  For them the Israelis have been very patient with the Palestinian Arab communities and have very little to show for it except dead soldiers, children, and more rocket fire.

So who’s right?  Who has the correct handle on the situation?

Unfortunately, the situation isn’t a clear, black and white matter.  Like the Crusades, the American Civil War, and the Cold War, the Arab and Israeli conflict is complicated and doesn’t nicely fit into any one particular narrative.  But in terms of the current situation, I’d have to side with Israel for one very simple reason: Hamas has and will continue to be an obstacle for the peace both sides want.

Yes, you did read that correctly.  Both sides want peace, hard as it may be for some of you to imagine.  And it isn’t too hard to understand if you think about it.  For the Palestinians, peace means no more defeats with high casualties and a chance to address their grievance outside of the context of war.  For the Israelis, it would mean safety for themselves and a chance to take an active role in the world instead of constantly having to fall back on defensive reactions.  All of these things are greater and far more beneficial than the current unrest and instability.  Unless, you are Hamas.

Hamas is a terrorist organization formed in 1987 that had ties with Iran, Syria, and Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power.  Its founding charter declared the group was totally opposed to the existence of the Jewish state of Israel and planned to raise “‘the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine'” (CFR).  And so far they have remained true to that goal.  Through suicide bombings and rogue mortar and missile fire, Hamas has done everything in its power to antagonize and lead a Palestinian revolt against Israel.  They have even used schools run by the United Nations to stockpile rockets and are known to booby trap houses abandoned by civilians.  Yet all that has become of it are the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, often civillians.  Any rational group of people would say that violence isn’t working if their goals haven’t been reached and if more of their people die than their enemies.

But Hamas is not rational.  Every defeat it suffers it then twists into a sick game of “morality” to curry favor in the West.  “Sure we send in suicide bombers and use tunnels to kidnap Israelis and smuggle weapons to carry out jihad.  But can you blame us when Israel responds so strongly and barricades us into what little land we still have?  We’re the real victims here.”  Never mind the fact the true victims are the Palestinian children who grow up either in fear of another Israeli invasion because someone in Hamas fired rockets toward Tel Aviv or in a blind hatred of anyone who isn’t a supporter of Hamas.  The true victims are the Palestinians who want to live out their lives but are seen as potential martyrs for the cause of Hamas and jihad.  The true victims are the Israelis who think nothing good can come from Gaza.  But nothing can be done for them if mad dogs like Hamas are given sympathy and international legitimacy.

Ancient Faith or Cultural Christianity?

Technically this is another hot button issue for Christians, but I’m not sure how many have actually thought about it: are we continuing to uphold an ancient faith or have we just adapted our beliefs to the culture as time has passed?  And does the answer really matter?  Part of the reason I don’t believe many people have pondered these questions is because they often relate it to the whole religious vs. spiritual debate.  And while the two are indeed connected, what they focus on is generally different.  For example the religious-spiritual conversation tends to revolve around worship and preaching style.  Do you want a more conservative worship service and preacher who emphasizes on God’s commands?  Or do you prefer something more contemporary with a pastor who teaches about God’s abounding love and mercy?  Occasionally those discussions might go deeper into theology, but generally their just surface questions based on preference.  The question I’m posing is less superficial and really requires you to reflect how you view your own faith and what you believe Christianity is supposed to be.

But before we can try answering this question, I think we need clarify what is meant by “ancient faith” and “cultural Christianity.”  Let’s start with the latter.  If you were to it up on Google or Bing you’ll see a wide variety definitions and characteristics attributed to it.  One site said a cultural Christian was one who accepted Christian values for any number of reasons but is not an adherent to the faith.  Another described it as a societal status to indicate background and history such as an American-Irish family claiming to be Catholic but hardly ever attending mass or supporting the local parish.  For the purposes of this post, cultural Christianity is to take fundamental Christian beliefs and molding them to fit the current culture.  So if society looks down on young women who openly flirt with members of the opposite sex, then the cultural Christian accepts this condemnation as part of his or her faith.  Or if society believes that moral absolutes are too restrictive, then the cultural Christian believes ethics are obstacles to fully enjoying the freedom and unconditional love that God provides.

Alright, so what do I mean by “ancient faith”?  I mean the observance of the Tradition of past believers as well as strict adherence to Christian dogma.  This faith doesn’t change if the culture around it changes, but endures and out lasts the present culture.  Good examples of this can be seen in devout Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and maybe some high liturgical Protestants.  A change in belief rarely happens and often requires a specific type of council or procedure that will make the change credible for all.  Without this ethos, the new idea becomes suspect and falls away.  (NOTE: Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox proclaim to be exclusively the one true Church that upholds the ancient faith of the Apostles and Church Fathers.  The intent of this post is not to declare which one is right, but to identify a particular idea that both recognize and share.)

Now that we have definitions to work with, let’s return to the first question: are we faithfully remaining true to the “ancient faith” of past believers or are we allowing the culture around us to help mold and better understand our beliefs?  Personally I believe the American Church as a whole has become more culture oriented.  Many denominations have accepted same sex unions to be as equally holy and approved by God as heterosexual marriages are.  Dress for worship has gone from the formal “Sunday Best” to casual everyday clothes.  Repentance and sinner have become forbidden words that have been replaced with “love” and “all have sinned, so who am I to judge.”  And worship services have been altered in order to be more appealing to those outside of the Church.

“But wait a minute.  Are these actually proofs that the American Church has become more culture oriented?”

That’s a fair question.  Many Christians would find my views on traditional and contemporary worship styles to be nothing more than opinion.  After all music is a matter of taste and lyrics that fit the times help worshippers better reflect on the God they love.  I know a few people who feel more at home with “God of This City” than “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or the Byzantine chants at a Divine Liturgy service.  Plus worship services should make newcomers feel welcomed and not put off or ostracized.  Therefore we should be concerned with the grace God has given us and share it with others instead of reminding them of how often they failed.  And if we accept this, it shouldn’t matter whether we agree with another person’s lifestyle or not.  Rather we just need to be Jesus to them.  Right?

Well if we follow this line of thinking, we would have to answer the second with “No, it does not because it is all a matter of taste.”  However, as I mentioned above, this is a subject that goes beyond our own personal preferences and reveals our true positions regarding Christianity.  If it is all about how we feel, then we’re saying nothing is truly concrete in our beliefs.  We’d be unable to identify and correct heresy.  The Christian absolute statements of morality and God would be empty and meaningless, even if they did come from the mouth of Christ.  And if Christ is meaningless, then so is our faith.

What is needed, then, is some standard that we as believers could all identify with and be unified.  Something which transcends our differences of culture, personal opinion, and the times in which we live.  What we need is the faith shared by all those who followed God.  A faith which teaches us right action and belief.  A faith practiced and preached since the beginning of the Church.

Now what that looks like, I’m not sure.  Some would say that upholding the tenets of one of the Creeds is enough to make that connection.  The rest like worship and clothes are just details that get in the way.  They’re the little things and not the big things.  Then there are others who say the little things do matter.  And I suppose we return to the problem of personal opinion.  Is it okay if one church breaks away from its tradition in order to satisfy the need it sees to observe our ancient faith?  Or do we have to hold to some universal idea of what the Church should be?

The Immigration Crisis

For the last couple of weeks, the news has been full of stories about tens of thousands of young Central American children crossing the US border illegally.  Often they turn themselves in claiming they wished to be reunited with family members already in the US or because their parents had sent them away with hopes America will take them in.  They are then stationed in warehouses or temporary shelters provided by churches or communities across the nation where they await to hear if they’ll be allowed to stay or if they will be forced to return home.

The reaction by Americans and the federal government to this influx of illegal immigrant minors?  Policy gridlock.

Republican lawmakers would like to see the President direct more funds to increase security at the border and to deport illegal aliens at a faster rate.  Democrats feel President Obama has been more than generous by requesting more than $3 billion to solve the current crisis.  Conservatives have responded that most of the President’s plan would to spend money to fix symptoms and not the problem.  Liberals retort that those wishing to beef-up immigration laws are betraying the heritage and spirit of America which was founded by immigrants.

And while each side of the debate has made valid points, they haven’t touched the heart of the problem: why the sudden spike of illegal immigrants?

To be sure, this isn’t a new topic.  Undocumented workers in the United States has a been problem as far back as the founding of the nation.  Many attempts have been made to stymy the tide, often succeeding but complicating the situation or ultimately failing.  But the fact we’re seeing unaccompanied minors crossing the border in such record numbers has been the main reason for why the issue has come to the fore.  And while elected officials and news pundits keep point fingers as to who is responsible in the US, I keep wondering, “Why now?  Why are they coming now?”

Some think that it is because the President’s past policies have signaled to people around the world that if children are caught crossing the border illegally then they will not be sent back.  However, why send the kids on such a perilous journey?  Because the US President said, “It’s okay”?  That doesn’t make a lot sense unless the parents thought the dangerous trip north to Texas or Arizona was better than keeping their children at home.  And that I believe is the key to solving our current border crisis.

While drug cartels and the mob may not be the main reasons for Central Americans to flee their homelands, they are making the environment unstable and unsafe for raising families.  As we have seen in Mexico, organized crime has the ability to overrun local authorities through bribery or “accidents” if left unchecked.  Smugglers and drug dealers fight over turf without regard to civilian casualties.  And young children, if they can manage to avoid the violence, grow up in a world where the only reliable job requires that you pick up a gun to protect the people who make and sell drugs to feed American addictions.  Not a pretty or hopeful picture is it?  Yet that is what many are wanting these children to go home to.

If we want to solve our border crisis, we must be willing to look beyond ourselves and our own borders to find the better solution.  In fact what we need is a new Monroe Doctrine.  Instead of telling foreign powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere, we need to provide support for our fellow New World countries by breaking the power the cartels have over them.  This might mean two policy measures that are unlikely to find popular support in America.  First would be legalizing illicit drugs in America and allowing the federal and state governments to pass regulations on that part of the drug industry.  Obviously citizens, such as myself, who believe there is no virtue or safety measures for cocaine, marijuana, heroin, meth, etc. will never support such a move.  The second, independent of the outcome of the first policy measure, would be to deploy the US military south of the border to eliminate the drug cartels.  After all, the mob is all about finding ways to make money outside of the confines of the law.  If it isn’t booze, then its narcotics.  If narcotics become legalized, then something else will become their new product.  Perhaps they’ll expand their involvement in human slavery.  And somehow I don’t think anyone will be willing to support the legalization of that vice.

Yet our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown us that nation building isn’t a favorable policy among voters.  Also many politicians, particularly for the new and younger Republican Guard, have made it a hobby of bashing active American intervention around the world.  “Let’s nation build at home!” they cry.  But I have yet to see them act beyond their own self-interests to be the most pure conservative or most loyal liberal.  These unprofitable ambitions have resulted in the current gridlock and grand standing in Congress as well as our inability to do what must be done to end this migration of unskilled laborers across our border.  Fortunately this is not a nation where elected officials are guaranteed their posts.  This November we have a chance to provide a Congress that is both able and ready to make hard decisions on a host of issues including immigration.  But that won’t happen unless we the people make it a point of concern to the candidates.  That being said, I implore you, good readers, to call your elected officials and candidates about the concerns you have about the border.  We must set the example of what it means to be a 1st World Country in the 21st century.  And it isn’t by condemning minors or creating an open border.  It is by bringing other nations into a modern and globalized world.

The Problem with Democrats…

…well there are a lot of problems with them actually.  Yes, yes, I know.  I did this joke earlier with Republicans; however, I doubt there are that many people who would disagree with it.  And as you probably guessed, this post is looking at one particular problem within the Democratic Party.  But the question is, “Which problem poses the greatest threat to the Democratic Party?”  Is it their unabashed hatred for anyone who isn’t a minority?  Nope.  Is it their desire to redistribute wealth in an unrealistic manner that will inevitably destroy the American economy?  No, but good guess.  Is it the need to impose social and cultural values that they hold through law instead of engaging in civil debates within their communities?  Close, but still no.

Actually all of those guesses are connected by the actual problem: they’re in love with their own vision.  Democrats are very good at creating a pleasant vision of themselves and the future they would like for America to have.  Its one where there is no discrimination and everyone equally has their opinions heard and respected by others.  This America lacks a wage gap and everyone is equally rich and poor all at once.  And we are friends with everyone abroad.  Not a bad picture, right?  Almost makes you want to sing “Imagine” by John Lennon.

But the problem with this vision is that it is only a vision.  It doesn’t actually exist and it is unrealistic that it ever will unless human nature can be exploited or controlled to make it happen.  And that is the service the Democratic Party is willing to provide.  Granted they don’t come out and say so in such an abrupt and honest manner.  Rather they guise themselves as champions of this and that cause for such and such victim.  Don’t believe me?  Pick any policy issue and try to prove me wrong.

Healthcare?  The greedy Republicans and business owners want to run rough shod on poor, hard working Americans by denying them access to medical services.  And, with the recent court case with Hobby Lobby, they’re even willing to use religious beliefs to carry out their insidious intentions.  Women’s rights?  Washington is full of fuddy-duddy old men who want to control women’s lives and bodies.  Guns?  The NRA and other gun nut-jobs want to relive the glory days of the Wild West without any regard to school shootings and other related gun crimes.  Income?  Every American deserves the American Dream, but Wall Street isn’t willing to part ways with their bonuses and 6 figure checks.

Need I continue?

And the only people who are both able and willing to stand up against these injustices and bring hope and change to all Americans are, supposedly, the Democrats.  Sadly many of the solutions these self-made saviors of the US have proposed don’t work and are often implemented by hypocrites.  Warren Buffet, notable for his crusade to raise tax rates on the wealthy, willfully uses the tax code loopholes in his favor so that he can pay less than his secretary.  The high tax rates in California have allowed conservative states like Texas to steal Californian businesses and jobs.  The LGBT activists who proclaim love and tolerance demand the censorship of anyone who disagrees.  Gun-control activists want to protect Americans, yet are quick to draw up laws that make gun owners guilty before any crime or trial takes place.  Al Gore decries how much CO2 is released into the air by American cars and factories, yet he flies on commercial jets and drives gas guzzlers.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, people are going to realize that this vision is ultimately an illusion.  Tolerance that only accepts one view isn’t tolerance.  Benefits for minority students in our public education system often leave those students unchallenged and therefore handicap them.  If it is the moral and civic duty for the most wealthy to give the most to the needy, then that rule needs to be applied by everyone including those sitting on the left side of the aisle.  If outlawing alcohol had disastrous effects, what will happen when guns are virtually outlawed?

Yes, someone eventually will say, “Hey look!  The Emperor is naked!”  And when that happens, it will be the end.  Perhaps not the end of America, but the way the current Democratic Party conducts itself.  Hopefully when this happens there will be a competent and strong political party to take its place while it rebuilds or to replace it entirely.

Hot Button Christian Issues: Religious vs. Spiritual

Welcome to another Hot Button Christian Issues post!  Today we’re diving into the debate between being “religious” and “spiritual.”

For many believers, this debate typically comes up only once and a while.  This is because most have found an environment conducive for their beliefs and preferred methods of worship.  When it does come up it is usually in situation where one is trying to explain or defend a position on theology and practice of faith.  For example, the relatively recent Emergent Church (EC) movement centers itself around the goal to reach people in a post-modern era.  A rather admirable goal, however many find that the EC is using its ends to justify the means.

In the “religious and spiritual” debate, the EC will usually side with the latter by rejecting traditional and formal modes of worship and evangelism.  Instead of witnessing and testifying about the gospel, members of the EC engage in conversations with non-believers.  While some churches offer creeds or introductory faith classes to teach basic tenets of the faith, the EC emphasizes the individual experience of the believer.  The reason for this is that the EC believes that dogma and doctrine lack relevancy in a world and culture that is unable or unwilling to accept absolute truths but will affirm personal experiences as the only real forms of truth.  Thus the EC, and many others, seek to become “spiritual” or more personal in their faith as opposed to being religious which is seen as being cold, rigid, and unsatisfying to the individual.

On the other side of the debate the “religious”, usually more conservative churches with older congregations, believe that being spiritual is just another way of saying, “I’m making no commitment in my faith and will find some theological cop-out to avoid answering unpleasant questions of faith.”  For them the creeds, the doctrines, and at times even social standards outside of biblical teaching ought to be confessed as truth and observed…well, religiously.  They see their spiritual counter-parts as Prodigal Sons who takes advantage of the Father’s grace by ignoring his teachings.  Similarly, the religious are often condemned for being too legalistic and are often called Pharisees because they place such an emphasis on “law” instead of “love” and “grace.”

For a long time I aligned myself with the religious.  To me Christ, Paul, Peter and the rest were constantly teaching and emphasizing how important what their dogma was.  Sure they focused on being loving and kind, but Truth was ultimately to be found in the commands given to us by Christ and his apostles and prophets.  If you just loved everyone and not worried about what Jesus taught, then you were liable to fall into heresy.  And I still think that because right belief and knowledge quickly identifies and refutes false gospels.  However a recent revelation was made me change the way I see this whole debate.

Instead of it being religious vs. spiritual, it is really about right belief vs. right action.  Think about it.  The spirituals really do understand what Christ was teaching when he said, “Feed the hungry.  Comfort the sick.  Etc.”  For them that is all that matters because is justly merciful and surely he wouldn’t condemn those who did his will.  The religious, on the other hand, look to creeds and dogma because that is where they find comfort in whether or not their faith is correct.  If you don’t have the correct beliefs, then your deeds don’t matter because you did them while putting your faith in a false gospel.

Of course that really doesn’t answer the question: which side is correct?  Right now that’s all that matters to the Christians struggling with this debate.  Do we reject the need for rules and correct doctrine?  Or do we just follow Christ’s orders and hope for the best?  And for a time, I continued to side with the right belief crowd because it made the most sense.  Yet when I read Scripture, I see such an emphasis on correct action that I’m left a little confused.  Until I read something from St. Mark the Ascetic.

In his writings, No Righteousness by Works, the saint says, “If you want with a few words to benefit one who is eager to learn, speak to him about prayer, right faith, and the patient acceptance of what comes.”  Did you get that?  “Right faith.”  He doesn’t say right belief or right action, but right faith.  That is we are to have the right faith, a faith which upholds the teachings of Christ, the apostles, the prophets, and the Church while carrying them out in right action.  So often in this debate we emphasize one thing over another.  But we failed to see that we should be more worried about our faith and not our beliefs or actions.  It is our faith that gives our beliefs and deeds meaning.  It is our faith that saves us, not our knowledge or actions.

 

NOTE:  My description of the EC movement is based on personal experiences with those who adhered to the movement.  The EC lacks an official webpage or book that comprehensively describes the movement’s theology.

Separation of Church and State?

Considering that my blog consists of articles on religion and politics, I think it is only fitting to celebrate my 50th post by asking, “Is there and should there be separation of Church and State?”

Generally, the majority of people will agree that separation of Church and State does in fact exist and that it should exist in some way.  The problem arises when an event, like school prayers, or an object, like the Ten Commandments at the courthouse, has been called into question of whether or not it has unconstitutionally bridged the gap between the two.  The result is often a fierce and divisive debate between the Christian Right and the Secular Left with each portraying the other as the destroyer of liberty.  Fox News will typically side with the Christian Right and telling its viewers that the other news networks are not giving this a second thought because they’re biased and Fox News isn’t.  MSNBC, CNN, and the rest reply by giving it a short segment in their brief news report for the day and say something to the effect of, “The Christian Right is wrong and maybe stupid.  Everyone who’s anyone knows this.  Therefore the Secular Left must be right.”  And in the end nothing gets done except widening the divide in an already polarized population.

So who is right?  Should school prayers be allowed?  Can the Ten Commandments be placed at the court house?  Can we say, “One nation under God”?  Or do we need to remove any and all images and references to religion from the public square and our government?  Personally, I think the answer lies in what was originally meant by the phrase “separation of Church and State.”

In January 1802, Thomas Jefferson finished his correspondence to a small group of Baptists in Connecticut.   These Christians were concerned that their religious freedoms were merely “favors granted” by the government and “not as inalienable rights.”  Their hope was that the President would reassure them that the power of public office would be free of corruption and abuse by those who would use it to advance their own religious beliefs or personal ambitions.  This was an understandable fear since as far back as colonial rule, Christian denominations and sects who enjoyed having a majority following would establish membership in their churches as the primary means to seek and receive a public office.  An example of this would be Massachusetts which made Puritanism for a time the official church of the colony.  Those with minority beliefs were either unable or hard pressed to express their voices politically.

Thomas Jefferson saw this as a political opportunity.  The Federalists, the opposition party to Jefferson’s Republican-Democratic Party, were known to propose and execute days of thanksgiving and fasting depending on whether the county had received a victory or was perceived to be in peril (loc.gov).  Here was his chance to both publicly refute them and to explain why he abstained during his time in office making proclamations for thanksgivings like Washington and Adams (loc.gov).  The Federalists had use this, and other actions, as proof that Jefferson was an atheist and ultimately an immoral person.  No doubt Jefferson took much of this personally and felt the Danbury Baptists had provided him a way to vindicate himself.

After much consultation with Connecticut officials and revisions, Jefferson finally sent his response on January 1st, 1802.  He assured the Baptists that he did not consider his office as means to correct Americans on their theology.  Instead he declared that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” and that he was in agreement with the 1st Amendment which he felt built “a wall of separation of church and state” (loc.gov).  He then continues that this is a defense for rights of conscience which fits in perfectly with his view that matters of faith concern only the individual and his God.  (I wonder if the anti-Hobby Lobby people ever considered this part of Jefferson’s letter?)

So what do we take from this?  Jefferson, the person who coined the infamous phrase “separation of Church and State,” did not mean that religion should be utterly divorced and separated from the public square or in our government.  After all, two days after Jefferson wrote his reply to the Danbury Baptists he attended a worship service in the House of Representatives.  I suppose you could say this is just an example of Jefferson being a hypocrite or unable to make up his mind; however, considering the time he took to write and re-write this letter as well as what was happening when he did, I doubt he was anything but sincere and honest in his response.

So how does this answer our questions above? Well, I think we have to ask ourselves what the intent is.  When it comes to the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, I have to ask if the purpose is to enforce the commandments against idolatry and to observe the Sabbath?  Or, as I believe was the original intent, was it to remind the people, the lawyers, and the judges the historical origins of our laws and that the law has its origins above and beyond the will of individuals?  (Remember it was not Moses who wrote up the Ten Commandments, but God. And it was not the government which bestowed individuals inalienable rights according to Jefferson, but “by their Creator.”)  If we say yes to the former, then I would agree that the Ten Commandments need to be removed as we are no longer a nation inhabited primarily by Christians who faithfully profess and practice their religion.  Plus it would require us to say what is suitable for another person’s conscience.  However, if we say yes to the latter then we have nothing to worry about.

“But what about those of us who don’t share Judeo-Christian values?  Isn’t that breaching our rights of conscience by subjecting us to laws that have their origins in the bloody and dark Old Testament?”  To this I say, “Would you prefer Sharia law?  Or trial by combat as used in Medieval Europe?”  But seriously, if someone feels that their views are not being adequately represented in the court of law or in the courthouse, let him or her request that a symbol of equal meaning be placed there are well.  I wouldn’t mind if something resembling the Twelve Tables of Rome, Hammurabi’s code, etc. were setup in the courthouse because they also contributed to our law system and show the need for nations to have law and order.  If you’re denied, ask why.  If it is because your symbols are not Christian, then yes bring the matter to court.  This is a nation for all citizens of all beliefs, not just for some.

How about school prayers?  I have to agree with the secularists on this one and say, “No.”  Unless the school is by nature religious, its purpose is not to teach matters of faith but academics.  If Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. parents want their children to pray during school hours and learn the tenets of their faith, they have the authority to establish school systems that allow it.  And if a teacher wishes to make a comment concerning his or her faith in regard to a particular subject, they should be allowed to as long as the teacher states that is his or her opinion and not material to be on a test.  In this way the teacher has expressed faith does not require that students uphold it.  See the pattern?

The purpose of Jefferson’s “wall of Church and State” wasn’t to make an unequivocal division between religion and politics.  Rather the purpose was to protect the religious and, by implication, the non-religious rights guaranteed in the 1st Amendment.  I agree many people take this too far and try to remove God entirely, even if they are correct in some cases.  However I think as a nation we need to stop acting like children and take responsibility of our own lives and beliefs.  Our faith is not based on whether the Ten Commandments are present in our courthouses.  And our country will not crumble and burn if they remain there.  There is separation of Church and State in this country and it isn’t a bad thing.  However, completely separating the two isn’t always a good thing either.  Just use some common sense.

For a copy of the Danbury Baptist and Jefferson letters, click the following links:
http://loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html
http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=65

For a commentary and brief history of Jefferson’s letter, click here.
For a copy of the Declaration of Independence, click here.